Judging baked goods at the Lucas County Fair was a very sweet experience last Monday, the day before the fair opened.
Once the entry deadline of 6 p.m. passed, the Green Arts & Crafts Building was closed to the public so the judging could begin.
Pam Weirauch, owner of Pam's Corner restaurant at 116 10th St. in downtown Toledo, and I set about tasting and judging cookies, cakes, quick breads, muffins, pies, candy, and decorated cakes, as well as the special contests for Decorated Party Cupcakes, Best Ever Apple Crisp, and 150th Lucas County Fair Anniversary Cake.
Other judges did the Canned Goods and the Table Setting for Two categories, which were displayed adjacent to the baked goods. The latter contest is a great addition to the displays.
We started with cookies, which included snickerdoodles and chocolate chip, molasses, oatmeal, peanut butter, and undecorated sugar cookies. Each entry was numbered; we had no idea who made the items. One of the sugar cookies and the lovely, delicious lemon bar entry were among our favorites. But a couple of the molasses cookies are embedded in my memory as well.
After that we tackled brownies, chocolate cake, pound cake, pumpkin bread, and muffins, which included blueberry and cranberry. There also was a sweet yeast bread. We judged fudge, which included chocolate and peanut butter. Then it was on to the peanut brittle (which was an excellent product), rock candy, chocolate-covered, and other candy, which included a white chocolate bark.
Based on appearance, texture, taste, and originality of the baked goods, we awarded first place, second place, and third place when deserved. We looked for doneness and color, and flavors that were true to the product. Some items had little surprises, like the banana bread that had pineapple in it, and the pound cake that had a lovely hint of lemon.
Then it was on to the pies, which included pecan and a pretty banana cream with blackberries. The special contest for Best Ever Apple Crisp had adult and youth divisions. The youth winner was just as good as the adult division winner. "I thought [that entry] had more flavor and the topping was excellent," says Ms. Weirauch, who noted there were more entries this year than in the past.
Entries for the Decorated Party Cupcakes and the 150th Lucas County Fair Anniversary Cake were ambitious and creative.
When Ms. Weirauch and I left the building fully sugared, we did not learn the winners' names, but by opening day each item was identified with the maker's name and is placed in a display case. Entries are on display at the fair until 7 p.m. today.
"I liked the variety this year," says Ms. Weirauch. "Consider entering next year if you have recipes that your friends and family rave about."
Dennis Lange, member of the Lucas County Fair Board, says there was also more interest in canned goods, antiques, collections, produce, and photos this year. He and Kathy Long, director, were in charge of the Arts & Crafts Building.
Three food products were selected winners in the Celebrate Toledo's Specialty Foods Product Development Competition.
Pause for Chocolate, owned by Shirley Pollman of Sylvania, makes a chocolate pizza that is sold at farmers' markets.
Ski's Polish-American Restaurant owner Jack Sparagowski of Sylvania hopes to market his signature sauerkraut balls to grocery stores, specialty food shops, other restaurants, and on the Internet.
Magic Wok, represented by Annie Pipatjarasgit of Toledo, hopes to market the Sweet and Sour Sauce which is one of the top three menu items at the eight-unit restaurant chain.
There were 18 applicants and 17 formal presentations with a "very good diverse group of products," said Rebecca Singer of the Center for Innovative Food Technology which promoted the competition with the Northwest Ohio Restaurant Association. The contest involved a written application and a presentation to a panel of judges who were experienced in the food industry.
The winners are awarded free direct business and technical assistance to make their products in larger quantities; product and process development; shelf stability testing; labeling assistance; regulatory assistance, and batch product preparation for sampling.
"We would love to see them on the market yet this year, but it's hard to predict," said Ms. Singer. "It's exiting. I was thrilled to see the ideas that came in."
The Epicurean Classic will be Sept. 11-13 at Northwest Michigan College's Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City. Guest artisans and authors include Kim Sunee, author of Trail of Crumbs; cookbook author Joyce Goldstein; cheese expert Laura Werlin; former International Association of Culinary Professionals' Cooking Teacher of the Year Raghavan Iyer, and and cookbook author Martha Foose. Also participating is Don Yamauchi, formerly executive chef of the Detroit MGM Grand Michael Mina restaurants and now executive chef at Forte in Birmingham, Mich.
There are expanded onsite demonstration and tasting venues, and a new day pass for $129 or $229 for both days. For event details and to register, visit www.epicureanclassic.com.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.
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